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Mauritania hikes defence budget

By Bakari Guèye for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 19/12/12

Mauritania is looking to substantially increase its budget for 2013, notably in the defence and national security sector.

The 2013 budget draft was presented to Parliament in Nouakchott at the start of December.

If approved by Parliament, the defence sector should receive 44.547 billion ouguiyas. Funds would cover the operating budget, equipment for the National Gendarmerie, salaries and equipment, and military healthcare.

"The Mauritanian army has been reinforced and equipped," Defence Minister Ahmed Ould Dy Ould Mohamed El Radhi told Parliament on December 12th. "It is making sure that it controls the whole national territory. It has set up special units to combat terrorism."

Analyst Abdou Ould Mohamed explained that the Mauritanian army now "finds itself forced to reorganise and equip itself to face some huge security challenges, particularly the threat of terrorism".

"The Mauritanian authorities have declared a corridor along the northern and north-eastern borders with Algeria and Mali to be a military zone," Ould Mohamed told Magharebia.

"The area is known to be a refuge for al-Qaeda's terrorists and smugglers of all kinds, so movements of people and goods are now subject to military controls. That takes a lot of effort," he said.

The militarised zone includes "three mandatory checkpoints which appear on a list of 35 checkpoints recently set out in a ministerial decree covering all of Mauritania's borders with Senegal, Algeria, Mali and Morocco", he stated.

The checkpoints are located at Chegga (800km north-east of Zouerate), the ancient colonial fort of Ain Bintili to the north-west of Bir-Mogrein (450km north of Zouerate) and at Lemgheity (600 km east of Zouerate), the site of a 2005 terror attack that killed fifteen Mauritanian soldiers.

"Mauritanian authorities have invested a great deal in defence since 2008," terrorism expert Sidati Ould Cheikh said. "They have focussed on maritime surveillance, air security, the armed forces' contribution to civil protection, and training."

Mauritania's military has seen its capacity enhanced over the past couple of years.

On October 19th, Mauritania and the Brazilian Embraer Defence and Security Company signed an agreement for the delivery of A-29 Super Tucano military aircraft.

The A-29 Super Tucano aircraft are expected to be assigned to patrol the Mauritanian borders.

In 2010, China also "granted assistance worth one million US dollars for the purchase of equipment for the Mauritanian army", Ould Cheikh added.

"The Mauritanian Air Force has carried out a number of raids since 2010 on camps being run by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in northern Mali," Ely Ould Maghlah, an expert on military issues, said.

With French assistance, Mauritania "set up a training centre for Air Force pilots and technicians to respond to the urgent situation caused by the terrorist attacks affecting the country since 2005", he added.

The Mauritanian Air Force has no supersonic combat aircraft, and has just a small number of light aircraft and helicopters.

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